Pinocchio paper prompts protracted porkies

Jon Sutton reports on the annual IgNobel awards, for research that makes you laugh and think.

The 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes, honouring achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think, were awarded in front of more than a thousand spectators last week at a Harvard University ceremony.

This was the 26th First Annual Ceremony, with the prizes handed to the winners by genuine Nobel laureates. Each new winner was permitted a maximum of one minute to deliver an acceptance speech, a limit enforced by three ‘human alarm clocks’ ding-ding-dinging in harmony.

The event was produced by the science humour magazine ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, whose founder Marc Abrahams has written for us on funny, thought-provoking research in psychology.

The Psychology Prize was won by a team from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and the USA, for their study asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers. Bruno Verschuere from the University of Amsterdam attended the ceremony. Their 2015 study, published in Acta Psychologica, had been covered on our own Research Digest blog. Bruno told us: ‘I was not told what made them decide to select my study, but my own hunch is that the publicity such as the excellent piece on the Research Digest blog drew their attention. So thank you!’

Part of the team’s prize was a ten-trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe, and Verschuere told us ‘Being a deception researcher, I find it quite appropriate that I got a fake price… It was also somewhat paradoxical that I lied repeatedly in the weeks before the ceremony. I had to swear secrecy to the organisers of the event and so I tried to tell nobody was I was travelling to Boston, and actually lied to those who asked explicitly, saying I would be visiting a colleague at Harvard!’

Verschuere told us that ‘all in all, it is a real great honour, and I had people from all over the world to congratulate me. The board of my university sent me their congratulations on a paper airplane (as used during the ceremony). Best of all, tracking ResearchGate, I can see that our scientific paper has been read hundreds of time in just the last week!’ 

Psychologist Gordon Pennycook and colleagues won the ‘Peace prize’ for their scholarly study called ‘On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit’ (a topic considered here). Other winners included neurologist Christoph Helmchen for discovering that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa); and Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube. 

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